A personal comment/disclaimer first. Brian Wilson is probably the first specifically Scottish politician I remember (well, apart from one I knew personally and socially, but that’s a story for another day). He was a prominent Labour figure in the 1980s, and as a young teenager with a just-awakening interest in left-wing politics it’s fair to say he was one of the main things that put me off Labour. Even at the age of 14 I got the impression of a nasty, snide, arrogant and pious career politico who’d say anything he thought might score a point over his opponent whether he believed it or not.
So in the interests of fairness and transparency we’re declaring a prejudice in advance. Brian Wilson is a horrible little man, up to his ear hair in the corrupt crony culture of Glasgow Labour, and whenever we hear him speak on any subject we’re reflexively and overwhelmingly inclined to believe the opposite of whatever he’s saying.
Nevertheless, we can’t help seeing a particular significance in the fact that he of all people was chosen to put Labour’s case on last night’s Newsnight Scotland.
Because Brian Wilson is perhaps the most devout anti-devolutionist in the whole of Scottish Labour, perhaps in the entire Labour Party. He was chairman of the “Labour Vote No Campaign” for the 1979 referendum and has continued to staunchly oppose self-government, describing it in 2008 as a “disaster for the Labour Party” – while, typically, admitting to not knowing whether it had been good for Scotland or not. For Brian, all that mattered was that it had damaged Labour.
(In the same piece, incidentally, he admits what Labour now habitually deny – that the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system was specifically designed to prevent the SNP winning control: “A Byzantine electoral system was created which would ensure that the Nationalists would remain in the minority.”)
Wilson is a man who seems to curse the terrible accident of being born in Scotland. He’s a London party loyalist who backs nuclear power (being rewarded with the Energy Minister post for a few years) and supported tuition fees before Johann Lamont’s U-turn on the issue. He voted “very strongly for” the Iraq war and against an inquiry into it, and backed ID cards, foundation hospitals and draconian anti-terrorism laws.
This is someone who wishes the Scottish Parliament didn’t exist at all. Why, then, is he put forward as Labour’s representative in a discussion about a Holyrood debate on welfare? The answer is that Brian Wilson understands instinctively the new position Scottish Labour is adopting: that of One Nation Britain, where Holyrood will exist only to implement Westminster policy and is to be stripped of any power to resist it.
His job in the coming months will be to constantly rubbish and ridicule the idea that Scotland and the rest of the UK can do things differently. It’s a task for which Brian Wilson has been ready his whole life. Keep it in mind when (if) Labour get round to coming up with a vision for greater devolution if we vote No. Because the last thing in the world that Brian Wilson would have any part of is devolving powers to Scotland.